Gravel biking is starting to become a thing here in the UK, with sportives galore popping up all over the place its a style of riding that can combine road and mountainbiking. Its relatively easy to access if you have a mountain bike but can be a little more difficult if you are a roadie.
Road bikes just aren't built for the rough and tumble off road riding that gravel biking is about. We've got a few gravel bikes in the shop from Marin's Gestalt and Nicasio to the Light Blue's Robinson. First and foremost looking at these bikes they do look like an easy to ride distance road bike with fatter tyres, many come with the 1x system meaning there is no front derailleur making things simpler.
I took out the Marin Gestalt 3 for a long weekend bikepacking into the Peak District in August and found it to be a very competent bike designed for riding on gravel roads. I purposefully wanted to test the bike in the terrain it was designed for so decided to take it out along the many tracks and trails the Peak District can offer but my first port of call was Bakewell and dropping onto the Monsal Trail. On the road the bike felt exactly like a long distance road bike, easy to ride, comfortable and happy to be loaded up. For a bike of this design it was very well balanced too, even though I had a 20L saddle bag by Miss Grape hanging out at the back the bike didn't feel light at the front. Once on the Monsal Trail the bike really did its job, this is a fast bike on this terrain and I challenge anyone suggest otherwise. Riding a road bike here, although possible, isn't comfortable, constantly keeping an eye out for those sharp stones that will mean a stop for repairs, while a mountain bike can never be fully put to the test here and the big fat tyres are wasted on such flat terrain. But the Gestalt sped along the trail with ease its 700x30c tyres absorbed the bumps while providing high rolling resistance and not too much drag. The difficult bit came at the Chee Valley. Now pushing a fully loaded bike up a rocky steep incline while wearing cleats is not a great idea, so I was glad I'd brought a pair of soft shoes along with the awesome Bike Dabs that converted my Look Keo Pedals into flats. Once at the top I hopped back on the bike to face the next climb.
I spent the weekend traversing the High Peak and Tissington Trails with real ease, even the side routes were relatively easy. Once you got onto something really rocky the bike showed its weakness and if I had been on a Hawk Hill or Pine Mountain this would've been easy but I only got off to push twice more. The joy of travelling by bike is only multiplied by the fact you can indulge your sweet tooth at places like Tissington Hall
Back on the road the bike performed just as it had done before and, being the terrain I'm more used to I made the SRAM 1x11 groupset work hard, climbing the hill out of Bakewell in as high a gear as possible than really pelting it down hill into Dore. The fatter tyres once again giving you the confidence to let rip but the chainset just holding you back a little, with no big ring to use I was limited to the 42t chainring and a 10t sprocket.
Now I agree these bikes can't do everything and they certainly arent a replacement for either a Road Bike or Mountain Bike but they are great for what they are designed for and as a Roadie who does like to venture off road every now and then, nothing too technical of course, this bike is perfect for me, it also doubles as a great winter bike for the road.
I was riding the Marin Gestalt 3 now called the Marin Gestalt X11 for 2018
This bike comes with SRAM 1x11 Groupset, Hydraulic disc brakes and 700x30 Schwalbe S-One Tryes.
What did I change: For my comfort I swapped the handlebars for a pair of Ritchey longer drops and the saddle was swapped for a San Marco Concor.
What would I change: For tougher terrain the tyres need to be fatter still with a max capacity of 700x36c. I suggest the Challenger Gravel Grinders.
What other kit did I take: The Miss Grape bags were incredible, the massive 20L saddle bag and the Large frame bag both performed excellent and to top it all it rained one evening so they got a wet weather test and didn't leak at all.
In Conclusion: Gravel Biking is for me, and I'm a die hard roadie. Its a great way for Roadies to take to the more undiscovered countryside and its a great way for Mountain Bikers to take to road without the discomfort but plenty of speed.
What next: Well I've always been a fan of steel bikes and I'm really looking forward to the Ritchey Outback which I'm sure will be coming to a shop in Sheffield soon.
If you are interested in taking on Gravel Biking or bikepacking then have a chat with Russell. Any of the products mentioned here are available to order from our shops. The new Gestalt X11 (£2000.00) will be available in the new year. The Gestalt range has 4 bikes the Gestalt 1 (£950.00), Gestalt 2 (£1150.00), Gestalt X10 (£1300.00) ask in our shop for more details.